Young Rhoda had it bad. We meet her ever-so-briefly in Acts 12. She was a young servant, perhaps a slave. Her work was to follow instructions, not proclaim or teach or lead. No one took her seriously. The disciples weren’t bad people, but it took them three years to listen to Jesus. Listening to Rhoda was simply not on the table.
So that night when the recently imprisoned Peter showed up at the door of the house where the leaders of the early church had gathered, they weren’t disposed to listen to the young slave girl’s proclamation of his release and presence at the door. They told her she was crazy and stupid for not knowing the difference between a person and an angel.
It took the girl’s near-hysterics to get them to listen and just go to the door and see. Sure enough, Peter was there, knocking. He didn’t come inside, but before he left, he finished the proclamation that Rhoda had started: the Lord freed him from prison.
Rhoda was not the only person in the scriptures whose proclamation is discounted by the leaders of the church. Mary Magdalene; Joanna; Mary, the mother of James; and other women proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus in Luke 24. They were dismissed for speaking nonsense.
As a woman and as someone invested in the formation of young people in the church, I am not surprised at how quickly Rhoda and the women on the first Easter morning were dismissed by the intellectual leadership of the community. A common refrain among youth in the church is that the elders are not interested in their ideas or leadership.
Young people and other marginalized people eventually leave when they become exhausted by church leadership that fails to include them and change with them. Sometimes they start their own churches and communities to nurture and grow in faith, and sometimes they cut their losses and don’t look back.
We all have Rhodas in our midst who we simply dismiss or tune out because their message is so radical, so preposterous that we can’t imagine its actually making an impact on our work -- even if it is the very thing for which we have been praying.
We pray for the renewal, growth and revitalization of the church, but fail to support and participate in the new ministerial ventures in our communities because they function outside of our institutional walls or ideals. We pray for reconciliation along issues of race, gender and sexuality, but insist that the power structures and traditional leadership remain in place. We pray that all will be welcome, but fail to make considerations and changes for those with difference or impairment. We pray for young people to rise up in the church and instead fund our building project.
Rhoda could hear the disciples discount and shame her, but she was convinced she’d heard Peter’s voice at the door. She knew that liberation was real. She didn’t let the naysayers get her down.
The vitality and endurance that Rhoda demonstrated exists today in the young people I meet at the Duke Youth Academy and in my church, the young black people who have committed their lives to countering oppression, and my peers who have started churches, businesses and non-profits in faithfulness to their vocational calling despite difficult economic prospects.
Rhoda is all around us. She asks hard questions and confronts our institutional and personal insecurities, but she carries the gospel in her very being and demands that each of us live in faithfulness to it. When you meet her, will you respond with cynicism and shame? Or will you listen and seek out the good news that she brings?